MS4 – What is it?

MuddyStormwaterExtreme example of an Illicit Discharge

MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System. Essentially, this is the system of pipes, inlets, and other structures owned by a municipality that collects stormwater runoff from buildings, roads, parking lots, etc., and is ‘separate’ from the system that collects and conveys sanitary sewage. In order to adhere to mandates under the federal Clean Water Act, MS4s are required to obtain an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit to discharge this collected stormwater into various surface waterways, such as streams, rivers, etc. In Pennsylvania, this permit is issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP, or just DEP).

One of the requirements in obtaining the NPDES permit is to control/reduce the amount of pollutants being discharged from the system. This is done by reducing the amount of pollutants from entering the system in the first place. To do so, municipalities must develop a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP.)  The SWPPP must address six (6) required minimum control measures (MCM).  The 6 MCMs include:

  • Public Education and Outreach
  • Public Participation/Involvement
  • Illicit Discharge Detection and Elimination
  • Construction Site Runoff Control
  • Post-Construction Runoff Control
  • Pollution Prevention/Good Housekeeping for Municipal Operations

Among the steps municipalities are taking to reduce pollutants and encourage water quality is to implement what are known as Best Management Practices (BMPs). Essentially, BMPs are the installation of, or improvements to, individual structures that collect and convey stormwater runoff. Some examples include Retention/Detention Ponds; Rain Gardens; Vegetated Swales, etc. These structures are designed to treat stormwater by “settling out” much of the pollutants and sediment that would otherwise be discharged to the waterways.

Many municipalities have begun to undertake some of these projects to meet their respective NPDES permit requirements. Some of these projects can be quite large and expensive, with costs running into the millions of dollars, leaving municipalities with the dilemma of how to fund such projects. Some, such as the City of Allentown, have enacted a separate stormwater fee, which charges land owners a fee based on the area of impervious surface on their property. Impervious surface is that which rainwater is unable to infiltrate through into the ground, such as building roofs, asphalt parking lots, roadways, etc. Others have collaborated with other municipalities to form regional stormwater management districts to manage such projects and funding issues.

Unfortunately, no municipality can escape the mandate of the MS4 program, which means no resident is immune to the ultimate cost of implementing these upgrades that ultimately serve to improve and enhance our quality of life. In other words; somehow, someway, sometime, we will all have to contribute to the solution.

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When is a PennDOT Highway Occupancy Permit Required

ImagePennDOT regulates activities within their road right-of-way through the issuance of Highway Occupancy Permits. By regulation, a permit is required whenever a access point or utility are installed or whenever other modifications are made to or above the the PennDOT right-of-way.

Most commonly for Benchmark, these permits involve the construction of a new driveway or other improvements associated with a new development or a municipal improvement project. Many existing driveways and utilities were constructed prior to 1982 when PennDOT began their current permitting requirements. These facilities are generally not “grandfathered” however some municipalities do not require that permits be obtained as part of land development projects for these older facilities unless they are being modified.

Often permits are also obtained when utilities are installed. Most major utility companies (water, gas, electric,sewer) have a contact with PennDOT which assists them in obtaining permits because they are generally routine in nature. Stormwater pipes which cross the PennDOT right-of-way are permitted to the local municipality who is then responsible for the maintenance of those pipes, inlets, and associated structures. Frequently, when a permit is issued for a stormwater pipe related to a development the local municipality will assign the responsibility and cost for maintaining the stormwater pipes to the developer. The Highway Occupancy Permit is still issued to the municipality but the developer enters into an agreement with the municipality.

Benchmark has extensive experience with designing facilities and obtaining permits from PennDOT for new and existing driveways as well as utilities. We have also completed projects involving overhead conveyor facilities crossing PennDOT right-of-ways. Please contact us to discuss your permitting needs. We have successfully prepared Highway Occupancy Permits for numerous private clients, municipalities, and school districts.

TRIP Releases Dismal Statistics for PA Roads and Bridges

TRIP, a National transportation research group released their report on the condition of Pennsylvania’s roads and Bridges. Paste the link below into your browser to see the report.

http://www.tripnet.org/docs/Pennsylvania_TRIP_Statewide_Release_052913.pdf

It seems that the statistics have not changed over the last few years: 25% of bridges are structurally deficient, motorists spend hours in traffic delays wasting fuel, our economic viability continues to be challenged as it our mobility becomes more limited. We don’t seem to see any employment gains or increased economic activity due to our lack of investment in transportation infrastructure.

It seems the only way out of this predicament is to push our elected officials to have the “political will” to fund infrastructure. It seems difficult at a time when economic hardship has captured our focus to go out and commit our resources to infrastructure but at some point we have to realize that the funding isn’t just going to appear. We are going to have to “bite the bullet” and pay a little more in fuel taxes and user fees if we expect there to be any changes. I hope that we see some momentum in Pennsylvania’s Senate and House to deliver a transportation bill during this session. I hope everyone contacts their state senators and representatives and tells them how they feel about the statistics in the TRIP report.

Congressman Shuster Acknowledges Transportation Infrastructure at the Tipping Point

U.S. Representative Bill Shuster spoke yesterday at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Breakfast which was held at the Mack Truck Customer Center in Allentown, PA.  . Congressman Shuster is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He acknowledged that the condition of our transportation infrastructure has fallen to the point where it is having a serious effect on our economic growth and global competitiveness. Our current funding legislation known as MAP 21 has not generated sufficient funds to maintain our current programs and will expire in September 2014. The Congressman indicated that they are looking at all potential funding sources. Congressman Charlie Dent also spoke briefly at the meeting discussing the need for a long term approach to solving this funding problem. He also indicated that the Northeast Rail Corridor should be upgraded to help ease congestion on our highways.

Congressman Shuster also discussed the Water Resources Development Act which is moving throught he Senate and will need to move through the House. This bill provides funding for ports, harbors, and inland waterways which are also in desperate need of a stable funding source.

The Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce outlines is support for a long term and flexible funding plan for transportation infrastructure. Copy this link into your browser to see the Policy.

 

http://www.lehighvalleychamber.org/External/WCPages/WCWebContent/WebContentPage.aspx?ContentID=2285

LVEDC Promotes Intermodal and Transit Oriented Development with Tours

Over the last two weeks the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) has held two important tours for the future of the Lehigh Valley, This past week, in conjunction with the New York and New Jersey Port Authority a tour of the Bethlehem Intermodal site was conducted. The site is well on its way to becoming a major inland port and several users have built distribution centers at the site to allow containers to be delivered directly from incoming rail cars to their warehouse facilities. The advantage of the site is that with the multi-modal (rail-truck) service delays at the port can be greatly reduced and shipments can flow into the distribution system much more quickly. The LVEDC is promoting this service as an alternative to trucking directly from the port. The rail service is configured to allow double stack containers and trailers on rail cars. Please contact Pete Reinke for more information (preinke@lehighvalley.org).

This week, the LVEDC conducted a tour of sites in Bethlehem, Whitehall, and Allentown and LANta presented their current and future plans to provide service to several corridors in the Lehigh Valley. The trip started with attendees traveling from downtown Bethlehem on one of the new hybrid LANta buses. The group visited the former Lehigh Valley Dairy Building, the Schoen’s Building in downtown Allentown, the former Bennett and Straub auto dealerships, and One East Broad Street back in downtown Bethlehem. Each of these sites are located on the trunk corridor of LANta’s bus service. Each represent redevelopments which will include commercial, office, and potentially residential uses. The redevelopment of these properties will include a focus on access to mass transit. LANta and the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission outlined their plans to promote transit oriented development. Developers interested in these site’s or other redevelopment site’s should contact Holly Edinger at LVEDC.( Hedinger@lehighvalley.org).

PennDOT ePermitting System Limits Permit Renewals to 30 Day Window

PennDOT’s ePermitting system has in many ways improved the process of obtaining highway occupancy permits. The Secretary of Transportation often touts how much faster and more efficient it is with permits being issued in 30 days. Obviously, many permits still require several rounds of submissions and the system requires that more information be provided in electronic format.

The system also introduces some challenges as to who can create and submit permits for different aspects of the project (developer for a driveway, municipality for the stormwater pipe crossing, utility company for a pole relocation).

Once the permit is issued, there is generally a one year period for the work to be completed unless a time extension is requested. PennDOT recently pointed out that the new ePermitting system cannot handle the extension of a permit once it has expired for greater than thirty days. Once the permit has expired, a new permit, including application fees, must be submitted. This is the way PennDOT’s regulations have always been. Now the ePermitting system forces PennDOT to enforce the rule.

A word to the wise – once you get a PennDOT Highway Occupancy Permit make note of when it expires. Make sure if you have not completed and closed out the permit work you get your renewal approved within 30 days.

Transportation Funding Legislation Introduced

PA State Senator John Rafferty introduced legislation this past week which addresses our funding crisis. The legislation is similar to the plan described by Governor Corbett in his budget address earlier this year except that it would be phased in over three years (instead of the Governor’s five year plan) and would provide $2.6B as opposed to the Governor’s $1.9B. The $2.6B is consistent with the Funding Commissions recommended level of funding.

Full details of the legislation have not been made available and it appears that there may be some resistence to these funding levels. The increased revenue would come at an increased fuel cost to the average motorist (who drives 12,000 miles per year) in the range of $2.50 to $3.00 per week.

The benefits to motorist and to all citizens would be reduced costs for vehicle maintenance (thanks to the improved roads and bridges), the creation of thousands of jobs across the state, and improved economic conditions associated with better roads, bridges, and mass transit system.

This legislation makes sense in that it is directly relating the collection of revenue with the users of the transportation system. It will be critical that this legislation move forward quickly if it is to have any chance of passing. The State Legislature has numerous issues to address (Pension Reform, Liquor Store Sale, State Budge) this year. With election season on the horizon lets hope that the political will exists to address these issues.

Also this week, State Representative Donna Oberlander introduced legislation which would abolish the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and would turn the toll roads over to PennDOT control. Legislation to eliminate the Turnpike Commission has been introduced several times recently but has not gotten traction in the legislature. The question at hand is whether one organization could more efficiently serve the transportation needs of the state.